Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God Has Looked Upon His Lowly Servant

December 22, 2010

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

By Colleen O’Sullivan

In those days, Hannah brought Samuel with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and presented him at the temple of the Lord in Shiloh. After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull, Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.” She left Samuel there. (I Samuel 1:24-28)

My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory. The bows of the might are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry batten on spoil. The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes. The Lord puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; he raises up again. The Lord makes poor and makes rich, he humbles, he also exalts. He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, To seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage. (I Samuel 2:1,4-8a)

Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:46-56)


My spirit rejoices in God my savior. (Luke 1:47)


I’ve sung with the Joyful Noise choir at St. Mary of Sorrows Church for almost 14 years. Over the years, we’ve learned many songs, but my favorite is an arrangement of the Magnificat called “Beloved.” The music reflects both the quiet beauty of Mary’s spirit as well as the soaring power of the God who does great things through her, who casts aside the proud and mighty and elevates the lowly, who fulfills his promise of mercy to all Abraham’s descendants.

And yet, the very words in the Magnificat that lift my soul in prayer are a threat to many. As I was studying the Scripture readings for today, I read in several different places that this song of Mary was considered to be so powerful and so subversive by the military in several Latin American countries in the last century that they censured the Scripture passage! Whether or not this is actually the case, I don’t know, but I can see how it could be true, because God’s ways are not the world’s ways. We are sadly often drawn to power, wealth and prestige in this life. If these attract you, it is threatening to read that God could care less about social status and accumulation of possessions; that, in fact, God will scatter the proud, cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly.

That’s exactly what Mary sings about – God lifting up the lowly. After being tipped off by the angel Gabriel about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she goes to visit her. Elizabeth can’t believe that Mary has come to her. She says it should be the other way around, because Mary is carrying the one who will be her Lord. Mary, in turn, sees before her an older woman, past the age when she could realistically expect to bear a child. Elizabeth is just an ordinary person, yet God has chosen to give her the gift of a child in her later years, a child who will become the forerunner of the Christ. Mary then looks at herself. She is no one special in the eyes of the world. She’s a young woman of no particular renown from a nowhere place in the world betrothed to a simple carpenter. Yet, God has chosen her to bear his Son! No wonder she bursts into song.

In the reading from I Samuel, we read about Hannah, one of Elkanah’s two wives. The other wife has given her husband two sons. Hannah has no children and throughout the years has been ridiculed mercilessly by others because of her barrenness. In the temple at Shiloh, she prays to God for a son and promises to dedicate him to the Lord. God hears her fervent prayers and answers them with a son. In today’s reading, she proves faithful to her word and leaves the young boy Samuel at the temple in the care of Eli, the priest. Like Mary and Elizabeth, Hannah is no one special in the eyes of the world. She, too, sings the praises of the God who breaks the bows of the mighty and exalts the humble in the second reading today.

God can do the most extraordinary things in the lives of very ordinary people if we are open to the Spirit. Hannah, for most of her married life, was resigned to being the childless wife. Elizabeth, an older woman, never dreamed that she and Zechariah would have a son in their later years, let alone a son who would be a forerunner of the Messiah. Mary, a young virgin betrothed to a carpenter, never dreamed of becoming the Mother of God. Yet, because these three women were open to the working of the Spirit, God accomplished great things through them!


During these last few hectic days before Christmas, set aside some quiet time to reflect on your own life. Where you have been open to the Spirit, what extraordinary things has God accomplished in and through you? Keep in mind that “extraordinary” is a relative term. It doesn’t have to be something spectacular from the world’s point of view, just something that you couldn’t or wouldn’t have done without God’s intervention.